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Roseville couple defrauded out of thousands of dollars through online purchase
Hope to warn others of similar plights
Barbara Simon had a bit of a bad feeling before she and her husband purchased a specialty machine online in October of last year, and now says she’s sorry she didn’t trust her gut.
Barbara and Bill Simon, who live in Roseville, have had a business in the precision metalworking industry for the past 34 years, and 28 years ago Bill invented a machine called an auto-sert hardware insertion press. The machines, which weigh about 1,800 pounds, are used in the computer industry and are particularly hard to come by, with only hundreds available throughout the world.
So when one of their customers called the Simons to see if they’d be able to find a machine, the couple was happy to help. Barbara thought it was a long shot when she decided to search for an available machine on Google, but knew that she and her husband had had success three years ago when they used the internet to find a seller in Utah with 11 machines that the Simons were easily able to turn over to their customers.
This time, Barbara was pleasantly surprised by their second stroke of “luck” -- finding what they believed to be was an auto-sert hardware insertion press in pristine condition listed for sale for just under $10,000 on eBay. The specifications about the machine were detailed, and Barbara said she and her husband immediately called the number listed on the website.
Barbara was slightly skeptical of the man who answered the phone, who identified himself as “Joe Bubb.” She decided to search for the company on Google, and wasn’t able to find a website, but Joe convinced her there were plenty of good reasons for that. And when he asked the Simons to write a check out to a name that didn’t match the name of the business on the website, he was again able to reassure the couple that everything was completely legitimate. So the Simons went ahead with the purchase and mailed a check, expecting the machine to be shipped from Huntsville, Ala. to their facility in New Richmond, Wis. the following Thursday.
“We just trust, this has been our experience for 33 years,” said Barbara, noting that In the metalworking industry, everyone is known to pay on time and deliver what they promise.
The Simons’ $10,400 check for the machine and shipping was cashed the next business day, and the money cleared their account the day after that. But when they asked “Joe Bubb” about the shipment of the machine, he denied the check had cleared.
“From there, I was pretty sure this was scary,” Barbara said. “We’re not Macy’s or Target. This sort of hit is very serious for our business, and for us personally.”
Barbara said she was devastated when eBay told her they couldn’t refund her money because she paid using a business check and not through the online payment options. She considered pursuing legal action against the company, she said, but was told by her lawyer that it would likely be a waste of time and money.
Feeling helpless, Barbara reached out to a metalworking distributor in Texas and told him about the scam. She was shocked when he told her he’d seen the same picture of the machine the Simons “purchased” on another website, and that machine had been listed as sold. When she contacted the seller of that machine, he told her other people had seen his machine for sale on various websites, and that he suspected a man who’d sold machines for him in the past may have been involved in the scam. He also told her there was another victim in Tennessee who’d lost $27,000 in a similar situation.
A suspect in that case has been identified by the Henry County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee. The suspect, who has not been charged related to the Simon fraud case, was arrested and as of press time was in custody at the Henry County Jail, according to Detective David Doyle with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office. Doyle added that when his case is settled in Tennessee he will be extradited to Georgia, where he has a warrant out for his arrest for his alleged involvement in a 2011 incident.
Barbara contacted the FBI but was told by an investigator that Minnesota doesn’t generally have the manpower to investigate cases that involve less than hundreds of thousands of dollars. He advised that she try to piggy back with the case in Tennessee, but the investigator in Tennessee said he wouldn’t be able to help her.
“I wanted justice for me and others involved in this fiasco,” Barbara said, adding that she is frustrated she hasn’t been able to receive justice through the criminal justice system in Minnesota.
Though it’s unclear whether the Simons will ever recoup the money they’ve lost, Barbara said she hopes sharing her story will encourage online buyers to be cautious when making purchases.
Detective Jen Engh with the Roseville police department said though internet scammers are always going to be on the prowl, there are certain things consumers should watch out for when they do business through any website, whether it be eBay, Craigslist, K-BID or other sites. The police department frequently gets calls from people who have been defrauded on these kinds of websites, Engh said.
“The internet is filled with fraud,” she noted, adding that it’s generally difficult to prosecute these kinds of cases because it’s hard to prove who’s on the other end of the computer or phone.
It’s important to try to make sure the business you’re purchasing from actually exists, Engh noted, so online buyers should always research the company before making a purchase. Engh suggested consumers locate an address, not just a P.O. Box, for the business, and find a phone number to make contact with the business as well. If you receive a call from someone who claims to work for the business, it’s also a good idea to Google the phone number and see if any warnings about a scam come up related to the number.
Engh added that even if the business appears to have a legitimate website, that isn’t always a sure sign that the business is legitimate. Consumers can also look for online reviews and customer feedback, and may contact the Better Business Bureau for more information on the business.
Online buyers should also be clear on the terms of the sale, including the sale price, delivery date, warranty information and return policy, Engh said, and should pay careful attention when it comes time to pay. Buyers should check to see if the payment is going to the same address as the location of the business, and should pay by credit card whenever possible because the buyer may be able to dispute a credit card purchase if they are a victim of fraud.
Engh also recommended buyers should be wary if they feel pressured to make a decision, and trust their gut if the purchase doesn’t seem legitimate even if the person on the other end of the line tries to provide explanations for lingering questions.
“These con men are good, they have an answer for everything,” Engh said.
Those selling an item should never accept payment for an amount over the listing price, Engh added, because in those instances scammers will usually send a counterfeit check and ask the seller to return some of the funds to them.
Even if consumers do their research and are cautious when making online purchases, Engh said she’s unsure that there’s ever a way to prevent fraud 100 percent of the time.
“I don’t know there’s ever a complete foolproof guarantee on an online purchase,” Engh said.
Engh said whenever someone in Roseville reports being defrauded online, police advise them to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov and check their credit report to make sure nothing appears out of the ordinary.
Alex Holmquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @AlexHolmquist.